Conforto attempting to repeat his freshman year
Published: Friday, February 15, 2013
Updated: Friday, February 15, 2013 01:02
Last year as a true freshman, Michael Conforto was the Pac-12 Player of the Year runner-up, Pac-12 Freshman Player of the Year, a Freshman All-American and the Louisville Slugger Freshman Hitter of the Year.
The left fielder led Oregon State in batting average (.349), homeruns (13) and even set the all-time OSU record for RBIs in a season with 76.
The biggest question for No. 6 Oregon State entering the start of the season might just be if its star player can repeat the production he provided in 2012.
Amazingly, coaches and teammates think Conforto will be even better.
“I don’t think there’s a doubt in my mind that he’s going to do it again,” said senior outfielder Ryan Barnes. “Mike’s a great guy, he puts the work in and just watching him scrimmage even, he looks like a more polished hitter this year than he was last year.”
“I think he’ll be a better hitter,” added head coach Pat Casey at media day on Jan. 30. “I don’t see Michael Conforto not being a better hitter. Matter of fact, he will be a better hitter.”
Even more important than the confidence of teammates and coaches is Conforto’s belief in himself.
“It depends on a lot of different things, but as far as what I believe I can do, I think I can do better,” Conforto said. “As long as I have that confidence in myself, I think that’s all that really matters.”
While everyone surrounding the team believes in Conforto’s abilities, replicating last year’s historical season will be no easy task.
Now that his name is well-known around the country, the Woodinville, Wash. native will be pitched to more carefully as a sophomore. He won’t get the luxury of seeing many fastballs, and teams will always be looking for a weakness.
“People are going to change up what they did to him last year, and sort of find the pitches that he can’t hit,” said sophomore right-hander Dylan Davis. “If he has a hole, which I don’t know that he does, he has to focus on that because people are going to find it and try to attack him right there.”
Conforto knows he’s going to be pitched to differently this season, but it’s something he’s spent the entire offseason preparing for.
“They’re going to throw hard inside and throw soft away,” Conforto said. “They’re always going to find something different because nobody’s swing is ever perfect, there’s always going to be a hole.”
There are two pitches in particular that Conforto has difficulty hitting.
“I don’t think it’s a secret at all, it’s a good changeup that’s down and a slider backdoor,” Conforto said. “Those are the two really tough pitches to hit in baseball.”
Last season Conforto was the beneficiary of productive hitters in front of and behind him. If he’s to come anywhere near last season’s statistics he will need senior shortstop Tyler Smith to get on base and senior first baseman Danny Hayes to protect him.
“I think a lot of it’s going to be more about what people do behind him,” Barnes said. “We had guys with [an] on-base percentage above .400 hitting in front of him the whole year, so that helps his cause. But I think a lot of how he gets pitched is how Danny [Hayes] and how a lot of the other guys swing it this year.”
Then there are the pressures that come with being the face of a program.
At only 19 years old, carrying the No. 6 team in the nation is a tough expectation. But Conforto’s not your typical college sophomore.
“Mike’s a great guy because he has that self-confidence but he’s not arrogant about it,” Barnes said. “He’s got an ego within himself and he’s not going to show it to anyone else. That’s what makes him such a great guy, such a great leader.”
Among all the new obstacles that come with this season, one in particular might have the greatest long-term implications for Conforto as an individual.
After all of the offseason accolades, Conforto has skyrocketed to the top of MLB Draft boards everywhere.
While the sophomore still has two more years of collegiate baseball before he’s eligible for the Major League draft, all 32 MLB teams will be analyzing every swing Conforto takes this year.
“That’s a big thing that gets in the back of a lot of player’s minds, and it can really mess with the way you play,” Conforto said. “But there’s no denying that as a player you see the stuff on the Internet. So you hear those things but you just try to stay with your approach and what you’re doing day-to-day, and just remember that I’m here to play for Oregon State.”
Even with all the changes and new challenges the second-year player will have to face this season, winning is ultimately what matters most. Conforto would sacrifice individual statistics and all of the awards if it meant getting to Omaha.